Q: How close did you ever come to not playing for one team your entire career? Does anything pop into your mind when you think about the potential of leaving?
TB: Probably mostly after my fourth year when I took a couple free agent visits to Green Bay and Cleveland and Seattle. It just wasn’t the same. I knew that other teams were going to have to make an incredible commitment to me to pull me away from New England. But I felt like I owed it to myself to at least go through the process, which is probably the only time I ever did that. I did take a few trips, spoke to a few general managers and you go to Seattle and [Mike] Holmgren isn’t even there, as the head coach on the visit. I said, ‘Is this a joke?’ to myself, for a lot of these other organizations and why would I ever want to leave New England? That was probably the closest. I’m a loyal type of guy. New England was always the place that I wanted to finish. I didn’t know where I was going to start but I wanted to finish there.
Q: You were voted in by the fans. How would you describe your connection with the fans both inside Gillette Stadium on game day but also outside the stadium?
TB: That’s a great question because I always felt like I was one of them. I never felt like I was any type of a special person or that I was any different than any of the people that were up there cheering on the Patriots. I always felt the New England Patriots fans did their work, got their work done, they liked to come home and spend time with their families and when they had free time, they liked to cheer on their favorite team. That’s who I am also. If I wasn’t fortunate enough to play professional football, that’s who I would have been: a good family man to my wife and kids and then cheering on my local team. I think that’s who I would be. I think that’s why I related so much to them. I already got an email from Randy Pierce, ‘Zip’. I still have relationships with some of the fans who I’ve met throughout the years. He congratulated me through email and I’ve already responded. There are certain relationships you form. I was never shy about forming relationships with fans because I felt very connected to them. Being here in New England my entire career, my kids being raised here, I sort of feel like I’m a transplanted New Englander. That’s the way I feel. I still live locally. I think probably the most, with my kids getting older, they’re Patriots fans too. I think one of the most exciting moments for me after Mr. Kraft gave me the news was I told my sons and to see their faces and how happy they were and them jumping up and down and giving me a hug, I think they were more excited than I was because I don’t do very good with individual accolades. Like I said earlier, championships are better, so much better. This was never my goal. The College Football Hall of Fame was never my goal – Hall of Fames were not my goal. If they’re a player’s goal, I think his priorities are messed up. Championships were and I’m glad we got that done, but this still is very cool.
Q: When did you know and when did you sense that the Patriots and you were on to something really great?
TB: I don’t know if I really even knew that after our first Super Bowl because we were a team that came out of nowhere. After that first year, that championship season in 2001, we had to go through a maturation process in 2002, about defending the title and still realizing what kind of work it took. I think we were a young team and a lot of kids had to learn that. I think it might have been on a plane once. On a plane, that’s a story I like to tell. Roman Phifer, one of my great teammates, we had won our second championship in 2003 and Phife called me over on the plane and we had a serious discussion. This was in the preseason I believe and [we discussed] if we accomplished it again, what we would begin. It was one of the rare times we talked about we could possibly be a dynasty. I think Phife really opened up my eyes to what we could have been on that plane ride and that conversation we had. The way it is there, when I was there, it was such a great job of suppressing success which was probably why I have struggled sometimes with individual accolades. You suppress everything and you try to move on so quickly to what’s next that it takes you a little while to look back and realize what you’ve done. I think at that point there, when Phife and I had that conversation, I think you knew what we were trying to accomplish. Also, midway through the 2007 season, I would speak to the team – sparingly, I didn’t want to get their heads too big – but speak to the team about what we were trying to accomplish then in terms of achieving that 19-0 mark. That was another opportunity we had. I’m talking about winning three Super Bowls in four years and almost completing a perfect record. We were very fortunate to have those types of opportunities and there were various times when I felt like we were on to something pretty good.
Q: Is there a particular game or play that stands out in your career?
Q: Good hands for a linebacker.
TB: Not bad. Linebacker slash defensive end, whatever I was, yes. If I could just say something about Gil Santos and how I called Gil today and spoke to him and just wanted to let him know how honored I was to go in with him. Gil is just a part of that logo as anybody, as I look at it. I look at the logo and I remember things and I see images. When I look at the Patriot logo, I hear Gil Santos. He reminded me when we spoke today that he called every play of my career and I said, ‘Yes, you did.’ So it’s going to be special for me to be there with him.
Q: What’s next for you?
TB: Probably this 11:40 hit that I have on SportsCenter because I’m in Connecticut right now. That’s all I have. I took it one play at a time and that’s how I take it here. It’s been a great couple weeks, a very humbling couple of weeks. I told you hard it is for me to deal with this because I’m being sort of pointed out. I’m not in a huddle, the eyes are on me and they’re not on the huddle. To be in the huddle with 10 other guys and that’s what it was always about for me and to be in a locker room with 52 other guys, that’s what it always was for me. How special Mr. Kraft was to me in my career. I had a lot of ups and downs in my career. Having a stroke in 2005 wasn’t a good time for me but it helped me form a relationship with Mr. Kraft that was special. He mentored me to the decisions that I was making, to come to back to play. Within those meetings, we talked a lot about life and my marriage. He gave me a lot of lessons that I learned that Coach Belichick just couldn’t do because of the person that Mr. Kraft is – how personal he can be to certain players. I hope he does that more. I hope it doesn’t take events like an event like I went through with my stroke in 2005, but that’s why I feel so strongly. He gave me a little bit more. He was there for me when I needed. That’s why I love him so much too.
Q: After your stroke in 2005, how close were you to retiring?
TB: In my mind, I did. I actually had a meeting with Bill [Belichick] also. I remember my wife drove me to the stadium because I couldn’t drive because my vision was still impaired. She waited in the parking lot and I told Bill that was all, I was done and I still needed a procedure on my heart to put the device in. I had already made the decision. I had retired once which probably made it easier for me when I did retire before the 2009 season. That was an emotional rollercoaster for me and I wasn’t in a good emotional state about coming back or not coming back. In my mind, I was done. Through the course of healing and support, I was able to come back.